C@W16 August 17, 2022 – Safety Management Systems – Part Two, Highlights of Presentation by Captain Bob Waltz, Ph.D.

consciousness@work 15 – August 17, 2022
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Safety Management Systems - Part Two
Highlights of Presentation by Captain Bob Waltz, Ph.D.
2022 FAERF Institute Summer Webinar Series

Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.

August 17, 2022

  This week’s article features the second part of Capt. Waltz, Ph.D.’s webinar on Safety Management Systems (SMS). It is poignant that this past week on August 1, 2022, the FAA recognized the families of Colganair/Continental Flight 3407 for their work in improvements in safety in aviation. The Foundation congratulates FAERF Institute Advisory Board Members, survivors Scott and Terry Maurer, Kathy Johnston, and Tina Siniscalco for their work with the other families of the victims of Flight 3407.

    It is timely that we are sharing information from Capt. Waltz’s doctoral research where he found that within all industries, including airlines, Emergency Response (ER) was an area of great need. In his review of studies in this area, the lowest scores always involved emergency response.


The second part of the webinar began with the discussion of planning and preparation for an emergency.

My organization regularly prepares for accidents/incidents. 

    Capt. Bob posed the above question as he continued the discussion about preparation for a response. “Please be honest with yourself. And by regularly, I probably mean at least annually, some sort of at least at a minimum tabletop, if not some sort of actual deployment, but at least probably every other year, if that's what you're doing, getting the folks together and going forward and actually executing on your plan.” There were mixed responses to the question causing Capt. Bob to ask the participants if they feel they are exercising enough.

    Discussion of this question led Capt. Bob to say, “It brings joy to my heart to see what we are out there doing because the key for any of this work is we know we can have a great plan on paper, but if it's just that if it's in a book on a shelf…or it's in a file on a computer somewhere…that we hope that we can, in case of emergency break glass and execute. We'll never be successful if we don't have that muscle memory for the organization that folks actually know whom to call. Where to show up. How to plug the phones in. How to set up your EOC or whatever you want. You call your central control facility. All of those things are things that have to be exercised…thank you.”


SMS Word Cloud




     Capt. Bob shared partial data collected in his doctoral dissertation as a word cloud. Twelve corporate leaders were interviewed, fully transcribed, de-identified, and put into a database. The word cloud shows the words that came up the most and have the most emphasis. “The one word that comes up the most of all of this is leadership. And I think that’s crucial. That is crucial to everyone in the room, regardless of our roles in the emergency response realm, in that, at the moment, leaders are needed.

    More often than not, it’s going to have to be a leader of substance because even these days, you’ll have folks who basically will say, hey, I don’t want to hear from your press agent, I don’t want to hear from your director of communications. I want to hear from a leader who is responsible in this area. Leadership is crucial. I think it’s up to us as we help our leaders understand the various programs. That we can give them the confidence to understand the response that’s going on and that it’s a robust response and help empower them so that they can go out and be the voice out front. That is crucial in those first hours and even days after an accident."


Through the Foundation, we are developing programs that will help you and your teams do this even better.

    "It takes work to get this done. There’s a lot to this thing called SMS, but I’m happy to see that you all are doing those things. And what’s even better in that space is that some programs we are developing here, through the Foundation, are programs that will help you and your teams do this even better. So we look forward to rolling those out.” 


The lowest scores around safety-related systems always involve emergency response.

    “We’ve been talking a lot about this thing, this overarching system, safety management system, and we talked about the plus one portion of it, which is crucial…emergency response. Interesting note, almost in every bit of research, which I was doing a lot of the background research for my dissertation, almost every survey that’s given to a workgroup across industries, the lowest scores around safety-related questions always involve emergency response (ER).”

    Capt. Bob explained that regardless of the industry, including the high-reliability organizations, the petroleum companies, the energies, the medical, the transportation, train, rail, over the road, or other organizations, the lowest scores were always related to emergency response. He encouraged everyone as ER leaders to consider this a significant challenge in the discussion of safety management.

    “I think all of us as ER leaders should think about that a little. How do we weave into the everyday experience of our employee groups the things we’ll need from them, the things the organization will need, and the things that will help them, should there be a need for ER?”

    In further discussions of emergency response, Capt. Bob defined it as an organization that comes together when activated; certain conditions are tripped when an accident or incident or another event necessitates an ER. “Typically within the organization, there’s a duly designed representative who would either get the executives together to make that decision and then go execute or has the authority to say, ‘Hey, let’s evoke our plan.’ This is when emergency response begins.

    It is a group of folks, it is an execution plan, and it's the whole supporting system that ensures that when activated, the team is ready, but also ensures that there's a planning capability, there's an exercise capability, that there are all of these other things that happen to make sure that ER is robust.”


An All Hazards Plan is a little more holistic. It integrates various plans into one with branch points.

    The discussion of having a robust ER plan led Capt. Bob to discuss the topic of an All Hazard Plan. “It's one thing to say that, hey, we'll have five or six plays we will call should we need them. One for maybe (an) active shooter on the company campus, maybe one for weather-related events, maybe one for these days, who knows, biohazard and or chemical events, and the list could go on and on. That is an approach that's probably the more traditional approach.

    The problem with that approach is you end up with 20 or 30 plans that you have to somehow keep synchronized, that you have to keep in step with each other. The All Hazards Plan, and that is a way of starting kind of top-down from the first conditions of, hey, what is a hazard? What is something that would necessitate this execution? And then from that, you have branch points in the plan, depending upon what the exact conditions are that you're facing in this particular circumstance.

    The All Hazards Plan is a little more holistic, it's a little more integrative. It integrates various plans into one with branch points, and it provides a common starting point as well as a single document and plan to maintain versus having multiples. So again, who needs one?

    My argument would be anyone who has customer-facing employees needs some sort of an All Hazards Plan scaled for the size of their operation. But again, I would argue that everyone needs that. So there are lots of tools out there that can help. That's one of the things, and again here, one of the goals of our organization is to provide all the information you would need to both understand what it is to go and execute and develop to help you in that development, and even to help you then in the execution. All those things are crucial to what we do here, and that's why we gather like we're doing today."


We’re going to be promoting the concept of a much more integrated response plan with your Humanitarian Assistance Response Program.      

    One of the things that you'll see prominently when we have the online course completed and everyone begins taking the courses that are involved in the program is that we're going to be promoting the concept of a much more integrated emergency response plan with your Humanitarian Assistance Response plan. And we'll go through all the reasons why it really should be more integrated as opposed to a separate standalone program.

    There are obvious components of the Humanitarian Assistance Response Program that are unique to humanitarian assistance but, again, very well connected and integrated with your overall company emergency response plan. So we hope you'll appreciate and get a lot out of that part of the course when it comes out.

“If you were notified at this moment of an accident or incident, do you know exactly who would respond and what their first steps would be to manage the situation?”

    “We've spent a lot of time this morning talking about SMS Emergency Response plans and how they may fit against your Humanitarian Response plan. If you were notified at this moment of an accident or incident, do you know exactly who would respond and what their first steps would be to manage the situation?”

    As the participants voted, Capt. Bob provided feedback. “Again, be honest, and it's okay to have gaps. We've got a majority; most folks say “yes.” So good, you're going right down, you're established, you're well on the road and may already be there with a very robust emergency response plan, though somewhat. Thank you for that introspection, and thank you for that thought. I'll be honest, I work for a large Fortune 500 company, and I know exactly what we're supposed to do. But I also know in reality, as most of us know, and you hate to use a tried expression, but no plan survives first contact. It's an old Marine, an old army saying.

    Basically, as you can imagine, you can draw up the best campaign plan on a board or in the sand or on a piece of paper, but the minute the first engagement happens, that fog and friction things start happening that could make it more challenging. That is why the exercises are so important. Defense in depth is so important. Having multiple folks who might be available for an event is so important because you just never know when it happens.

Your plan might be a great one, but that person whom you're trying to notify may happen to be out of cell phone coverage and may happen to be on vacation….

    Your plan might be a great one, but that person whom you're trying to notify may happen to be out of cell phone coverage, may happen to be on vacation, maybe didn't clearly identify who their stand-in is, who number two is in that area. Against that backdrop, all those things are important, but this is good. Thank you for that.

    Over the years and after reviewing different companies’ ER plans, this question kind of points to something I've seen, (though) perhaps not as often now. Which is a good thing in the evolution of planning. A company plan may state that we'll decide at the time. For example. If we're going to send a Go team to a site and based upon the circumstances of whatever the emergency is.

    The problem is that you end up with something like this, ‘Well, somebody mentioned that I might be part of the ER Team, but I have no idea what they might have me doing.’ So, the more you can designate that in advance, we like to take the position that whether it's a Go team, whether it's a Care team, whether it's part of your plan, the default position is we are going to activate, and we are going to deploy.

‘Oh my God, we are going to send a team!’ We have no idea who it is, or we haven't prepared them, either mentally or otherwise, to be part of that response.

    Whether that's a virtual deployment these days or a physical deployment because it's much easier to have people prepared and ready to go and then they can stand down than the other way around, which is, ‘Oh my God, we are going to send a team!’ We have no idea who it is, or we haven't prepared them, either mentally or otherwise, to be part of that response.

    Again, another thing we will be stressing as part of the planning process with our course is that the default position is to respond and then back down if need be. Because if you fully deployed and activated your company ER team and then they're not needed, what is it you ended up with? Well, you've ended up with a great exercise.”

    Jeff Morgan, currently writing the Planning and Operations course for the Foundation’s certificate program, chimed in at this point and validated Bob’s comments. “And so that's something that we always promote from our side. Better to be prepared and not needed than the other way around. So. Yeah. I'll just say Bob, in some of the presentations you've provided us to use as we create the certificate program, that is a quote directly from you we plan to use.

Again, once that momentum picks up pace, if your response is not in step with it, it will get ahead of you faster than you can ever catch up to it.

    “Very well said,” Capt. Bob continued the discussion. “And I agree wholeheartedly that all of these events have a kind of momentum of their own, and it's definitely exponential. It's not linear. In the first moments, we may think maybe we can get by without activating, maybe we can or maybe activate a part of the team, but give the other part of the team a break, if you will.

    I don't want to beat the dead horse with this topic. Still, I think it's important, the fact that whoever the designated leader or leaders are, who are the tripwire, if you will, to gather the exact and start asking those questions, the fact that they're doing it probably has already answered your question. The fact that they're saying does this warrant that activation? Again, once that momentum picks up pace, if your response is not in step with it, it will get ahead of you faster than you can ever catch up to it. And that's one of those things.

    And then it becomes very unfortunate because you may have a world-class humanitarian assistance program and the customer care program and all those other things, but that can get lost if in those first hours the event gets ahead of the organization. So just food for thought there.”

    Capt. Bob concluded the webinar by reminding the participants that while Safety Management Systems is not a topic we talk about nearly as much as other areas discussed, whether aspects of your plan or supporting survivors of different kinds of responses, it is an area that deserves a lot more attention and will continue to be highlighted in upcoming FAERF programs.  


    As stated earlier, the Foundation’s new FAERF Institute is developing a certificate in International Humanitarian Assistance Response. Participants in the program will learn much more about the essential nature of Safety Management Systems in an organization's Humanitarian Assistance Response Program. Watch this space for how you can sign up for the Introductory Course for the certificate which is due out this Fall.

From the Foundation

The last session of our Summer Webinar Series is next Wednesday, August 24. If you are a member and would like to join us, please email Cheri Johnson cheri.johnson@fafonline.org

More information can be found on our website!


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